An Amazonian community has threatened to “go to war” with the Brazilian government after what they say is a military incursion into their land by dam builders.
The Munduruku indigenous group in Para state say they have been betrayed by the authorities, who are pushing ahead with plans to build a cascade of hydropower plants on the Tapajós river without their permission.
Public prosecutors, human rights groups, environmental organizations and Christian missionaries have condemned what they call the government’s strong-arm tactics.
According to witnesses in the area, helicopters, soldiers and armed police have been involved in Operation Tapajós, which aims to conduct an environmental impact assessment needed for the proposed construction of the 6,133MW São Luiz do Tapajós dam.
The facility, to be built by the Norte Energia consortium, is the biggest of two planned dams on the Tapajós, the fifth-largest river in the Amazon basin. The government’s 10-year plan includes the construction of four larger hydroelectric plants on its tributary, the Jamanxim.
Under Brazilian law, major infrastructure projects require prior consultation with indigenous communities. Federal prosecutors say this has not happened and urge the courts to block the scheme which, they fear, could lead to bloodshed.
“The Munduruku have already stated on several occasions that they do not support studies for hydroelectric plants on their land unless there is full prior consultation,” the prosecutors noted in a statement.
However, a court ruling last week gave the go-ahead for the survey. Government officials say that neither researchers nor logistical and support teams will enter indigenous villages. The closest they will get is about 30 miles from the nearest village, Sawré Maybu.
River in the Brazilian Amazon. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
The ministry of mines and energy noted on its website that 80 researchers, including biologists and foresters, would undertake a study of flora and fauna. The army escort was made possible by President Dilma Rousseff, who decreed this year that military personnel could be used for survey operations. Officials say the security is for the safety of the scientists and the local population.
Missionaries said the presence of armed troops near Sawré Maybu village, Itaituba, was intimidating, degrading and an unacceptable violation of the rights of the residents.
“In this operation, the federal government has been threatening the lives of the people,” the Indigenous Missionary Council said. “It is unacceptable and illegitimate for the government to impose dialogue at the tip of a bayonet.”
The group added that Munduruku leaders ended a phone call with representatives of the president with a declaration of war. They have also issued open letters calling for an end to the military operation. “We are not bandits. We feel betrayed, humiliated and disrespected by all this,” a letter states.
One of the community’s leaders, Valdenir Munduruku, has warned that locals will take action if the government does not withdraw its taskforce by 10 April, when the two sides are set to talk. He has called for support from other indigenous groups, such as the Xingu, facing similar threats from hydroelectric dams.
Environmental groups have expressed concern. The 1,200-mile waterway is home to more than 300 fish species and provides sustenance to some of the most biodiverse forest habitats on Earth. Ten indigenous groups inhabit the basin, along with several tribes in voluntary isolation.
With similar conflicts over other proposed dams in the Amazon, such as those at Belo Monte, Teles Pires, Santo Antônio and Jirau, some compare the use of force to the last great expansion of hydropower during the military dictatorship.
“The Brazilian government is making political decisions about the dams before the environmental impact assessment is done,” said Brent Millikan of the International Rivers environmental group.
“The recent military operations illustrate that the federal government is willing to disregard existing legal instruments intended to foster dialogue between government and civil society.”
(03/14/2013) Leaders of more than two dozen Kayapó indigenous communities have rejected a $9 million offer from Brazilian state energy company Eletrobras to fund development projects in their region due to the the firm’s involvement in the construction of the Belo Monte dam, reports Amazon Watch, an activist group fighting the hydroelectric project.
(01/17/2013) Dams create a largely impenetrable barrier for fish even when the dams were installed with specially-built passages, according to a new study in Conservation Letters. The scientists found that migrating fish largely failed to use the passages in the U.S., resulting in far fewer moving through the state-of-the-art hydroelectric dams than had been promised. The researchers say that their findings are a “cautionary tale” for developing nations.
(12/10/2012) A new report by the NGO, International Rivers, takes an in-depth look at the role China is playing in building mega-dams worldwide. According to the report, Chinese companies are involved in 308 hydroelectric projects across 70 nations. While dams are often billed as “green energy,” they can have massive ecological impacts on rivers, raise local conflict, and even expel significant levels of greenhouse gases when built in the tropics.
(12/08/2012) Dam-builders seeking to unlock the hydroelectric potential of the Amazon are putting the world’s mightiest river and rainforest at risk, suggests a new assessment that charts the rapid expansion of dams in the region.
(11/30/2012) Brazil’s National Development Bank (BNDES) on Monday announced it has approved a $10.8 billion (22.5 billion Brazilian reais) loan to the consortium that is building the controversial Belo Monte dam in the state of Par´ in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, reports International Rivers, a group that is campaigning against the dam. The loan in the largest in the bank’s 60-year history, according to the group.
(10/09/2012) Construction on Brazil’s megadam, Belo Monte, has been halted again as around 150 demonstrators, most of them from nearby indigenous tribes, have occupied the main construction site at Pimental. Over a hundred indigenous people joined local fishermen who had been protesting the dam for 24 days straight. Indigenous people and local fishermen say the dam will devastate the Xingu River, upending their way of life.